The Marquis De Sade (1740 – 1814)

The word “sadism”, referring to sexual perversion involving the infliction of pain, is derived from the name of Donatien-Alphonse-Francois de Sade. He was a French author who, because of his remarkably scandalous life, spent more than 27 years in prison. Most of his works, still considered obscene and unpublishable, were written during his prison years. They include Justine, (published in 1791), Juliette (1798), The 120 Days of Sodom (written in 1785 but not discovered until 1904), Aline and Valcour (1795), Philosophy in the Boudoir (1795), and Crimes of Love (1800). Later writers saw in him an example of the eternal rebel.

Sade was born in June 2, 1740, in Paris. He pursued a military career as a youth during the Seven Years’ War (1756-63). He then married, but at the same time began living the scandal-ridden life of a libertine. He was soon convicted of acts of debauchery and sent to prison. Although he was sentenced to death in 1772, he was given a reprieve, after which he fled briefly to Italy. No sooner had he returned to Paris in 1777 than he was again arrested, largely due to the insistence of his mother-in-law. He was imprisoned at Vincennes, in the Bastille in Paris, and finally in the insane asylum at Charenton. From 1790 to 1801 he was free and living in Paris, where he offered several plays to the Comedie-Francaise. In 1801 he was arrested for having written Justine. In 1803 he was confined again to Charenton and remained there until his death on December 2, 1814. Twenty years after his death, Sade’s body was exhumed by Phrenologists (enthusiasts of a new science that believed personality traits could be determined by the shape of a person’s skull). They found Sade’s skull to be that of “a perfect human specimen…similar in all points to that of a Father of a church.” The most prominent characteristics of Sade’s skull were benevolence and religious faith.

– Columbia University Press and A&E Biography.